Mushroom Foraging: Avoiding Death Caps, Encountering TASTE

Andy’s species samples ahead of our foray, Nov 2012

It took me two years to finally get my act together to get a place on Andy Overall’s ‘Fungi to Be With’ mushroom forays. You needed to fill in a paper booking form! Send a CHEQUE! by post! It was like 1892, and I just couldn’t seem to get my shit together – I had no idea where my chequebook was, let along a first class stamp.

In the end I mooched a stamp off a colleague and sent cash, and last November I went on my first foray in Epping Forest while yesterday I went on an introductory workshop on Hampstead Heath where we covered some identification techniques in a more in-depth manner.

Andy’s wife described the forays as ‘a walk with a purpose’ and I think thats probably why I loved them so much.  We tromped off trail through the heath and in Epping forest for hours – sometimes absorbed in a clutch of edible mushrooms that we madly stuck in our bags, sometimes crowded around large, beautiful inedible specimens or as a highlight of Epping Forest’s foray: a clutch of young death caps.

My haul for the day in Nov 2012: Amethyst Deceivers and Jelly Ears

I quickly learned that when mushrooms abound, there are very few you can eat – and in most cases you only need to become very familiar with how to identify edible varietys (and any ‘ringers’ they might have) alongside confidently identifying the most poisonous mushrooms and you can probably get by ok.  I wouldn’t say I’m quite there yet, with about 4 edibly varieties in my portfolio and reasonable deathcap knowledge, but its a start – and a super fun hobby.

Hilariously (or ‘hilariously’) last year I got food poisoning quite badly after eating a mushroom omelette for breakfast followed by raw oysters in the half shell for an indulgent lunch.  While I knew I had been very careful with my wild mushrooms (and they had gotten the green light from Andy), I had no idea whether my bad luck had been caused by norovirus laden shellfish, or mushroom poisoning.  In the end I decided if it was mushroom poisoning I was likely to die regardless of medical help, so I might as well relax.  Within 24 hours I was back to normal.  But it was bad timing, to say the least.

Yesterday’s Haul

People freak out when they hear on the news that a woman made soup with a death cap and died. While this is tragic, I’d be interested to find out how experienced they were in identifying mushrooms – the risks aren’t worth the soup. I’m confident collecting the above St. George’s mushrooms at the moment, if only because the time of year means no death caps are growing – no major poisonous mushrooms (that are white) are growing yet.

In fact, I did despair mildly for the evolutionary potential of humanity when follow course participants described their mothers picking mushrooms from their garden and eating them after ‘the man at Sainsbury’s reckoned they were ok’ or professing that they always followed the edict ‘if it smells good, it won’t poison you’.

Seriously, are we living in medieval times? Are you looking to become seriously ill? Why did generations of humanity develop scientific approaches to this if idiots will just ‘use their nose’ and see what happens? I won’t be picking any mushrooms without Andy with me to double check my identifications for a long, long time. Luckily, he does this handily via his facebook page, when in doubt.

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